When Apple lost more than 75 billion USD in market value this week, after the surprise announcement of its iPhone sales below initial expectations, the company is largely responsible for its troubles in China, where the economy is slowing down and the trade war with the United States has hurt sales.
But a bigger problem for Apple could exist much closer to home, in a small, leafy Ohio town.
This is where my mother lives. She is a relatively technology-savvy retiree and a longtime fan of Apple who has used many of the company's products over the years. I learned to type on an Apple IIGS computer at her office and she was one of the first to adopt the original Turquoise iMac. These days, she uses her iPhone to check Facebook and Instagram, chat with friends and family and play solitaire and Words With Friends.
His phone is not the latest model – it's a three-year old iPhone 6S – and some of the latest features are missing. She can not take photos in portrait mode with a dual lens camera, a feature introduced in the iPhone 7 Plus, and she can not unlock her phone with the help of Face ID, introduced in the iPhone X in 2017. Battery life of his phone could be better, and the device sometimes lacks storage space.
But she is satisfied and does not feel the need to upgrade. It also has a first-generation Apple Watch and a MacBook Air of which it is several versions, which it does not intend to replace soon.
"The phone I did just about everything I needed," she said when I called her to ask her why she had not switched to one of the newer models. "Why pay $ 800 for a new one just to be up to date? My needs are not so complicated. "
Most journalists who write about technology for a living (including myself) are early adopters, seasoned users who like to use the latest gadgets and who are willing to spend money for a slightly better. The announcement made by Apple was a shock for some of them.
But for my mother and the many people who are probably in this situation, the slowing down of the company's iPhone sales is not a disaster at all. In fact, they have a total meaning and they do not have much to do with China.
In a letter to investors explaining downward forecasts, Timothy D. Cook, chief executive of Apple, said that consumers "were adapting to a world with fewer operator subsidies" and "were taking advantage of significantly reduced prices for iPhone battery replacements. The company declined to comment on this column.
Apple also faces competition from competitors such as Samsung and Huawei, which have flooded the international markets of androids at a lower cost, often running as well as iPhones. And, yes, there are problems with President Trump's trade war with China and the general economic downturn in the country.
However, the end result of Apple could be the hardest hit by people who keep their phone longer. In 2015, according to BayStreet Research, a company that tracks smartphone sales, iPhones were replaced after about two years on average. This period has been about three years and is expected to expand further.
"We're going to move to longer replacement cycles, mainly because the cost is higher," said Chris Caso, a technical analyst at Raymond James.
Many of Apple's problems are common to smartphone manufacturers. The components of newer phones, such as additional memory and improved display technology, are more expensive than older components. Refurbished and used phones are also more readily available, and operators such as Verizon and AT & T are no longer subsidizing new phone purchases as much as before, meaning that the initial cost to the customer is higher.
"Previously, for $ 650, you had all the new features, a better screen, everything," Caso said. "Now, to add more features to the phone, it costs money."
There are also Apple-specific variables. The latest version of Apple's mobile operating systems, iOS 12, has been designed to improve the performance of older devices. (This was a refreshing change from previous iOS updates, which tended to block older models.) With better water resistance and more screens Robust, iPhones are more physically resistant than before. And the list of new essential features has been reduced. With a few exceptions – like Face ID and animated emojis – you can not do anything on a new iPhone, but you can not do it on another several years ago.
Apple also benefited from the success of its battery replacement program, which offered significant discounts to many customers after the company had been accused of slowing older iPhones. This has led some users to replace their batteries rather than all their iPhone.
All this worries short-term investors who want to buy as many new iPhones as possible. But it's good for people like my mother, who keep phones that satisfy them and replace them less often. It's great for the environment: according to Apple's latest sustainability report, every new Apple device produces an average of 90 kilograms of carbon emissions.
A more durable iPhone could even be great for Apple's long-term profitability. As Brian Barrett at Wired points out, "An iPhone that lasts longer keeps customers in the iOS ecosystem longer" and is more willing to keep its paid subscriptions to Apple Music, iCloud and others Apple services.
Apple's longer replacement cycle can be a temporary phenomenon if new technologies, such as 5G mobile network compatibility, which is expected to hit iPhones in 2020, give rise to popular applications that do not work on PCs. older phones.
"If there is an application (maybe Fortnite 2) that I can not use on my existing iPhone, a new iPhone will be on the shopping list of all teens," Caso said.
But for now, even if investors are unhappy with the company's short-term sales, the rest of us should cheer as a sign of progress to give customers what they want : Robust and reliable phones that do not become obsolete as soon as a new model arrives.
When I asked my mom what would drive her to switch to a newer iPhone, she said that she could do it if a new mind-blowing feature came up or if her favorite apps were not working anymore. But in the end, she admitted that it was not likely.
"Until I drop it and break it, I'll probably keep it," she said.